This Monday marked the beginning of ‘Sleep Awareness Week’ around the world. Started by the National Sleep Foundation in 1998, the campaign’s goal is to prioritise sleep and to raise awareness of the benefits it brings to our general health and wellbeing.
We all know that getting a good night’s sleep is crucial, but for many older adults it can feel impossible. According to a study done by the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN), roughly 50% of older adults (65 years old and over) report difficulties initiating and/or maintaining sleep (*1). For this age group, less sleep can lead to health concerns like increased risk of falling and daytime fatigue.
It was previously believed that those aged 60 and over simply did not need as much sleep. This was a convenient explanation of why many older adults found themselves waking earlier and earlier. However, recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Age UK affirms that “we need the same amount of sleep as we get older” (*2). In fact, a good night’s sleep is vital for older adults.
According to the Good Care Group (*3), proper rest can help with:
- Increased alertness during waking hours
- Enhanced memory and attention span
- Reduced medication usage
- Reduced symptoms of depression
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Regulated appetite
- Reduced risk of falling
- A happier, more engaged lifestyle
So why do so many struggle to sleep for the recommended 6 to 9 hours a night? Cam-CAN argues that it is because older adults are more prone to sleep disturbances and are less able to stay asleep. This means that regular bedtime routines and rituals are all the more important. With that in mind, here are some tips to ease those disturbances.
Top Tips for getting a good night’s sleep:
Before heading to bed:
- Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Make sure it is no later than 3 hours before you plan to sleep
- Minimise the frequency of your naps or cut them out altogether if possible
- Use soft lighting like table lamps leading up to bedtime
- Read a book before bed and avoid screens like phones or television
- Create a bedtime routine you enjoy that prepares your body for sleep
Once you are in bed:
- Keep a glass of water by your bed to avoid getting up
- Make sure your room is comfortable, dark and cool
- Try a guided sleep meditation
- Remove clocks or watches near the bed
- If all this fails, go to another room and try a relaxing activity that does not use screens (listening to calming music, drinking a glass of warm milk). Then head back to bed when you feel ready.